Making Sense of Probable Cause
When a law enforcement official initiates an arrest, they must demonstrate that they have probable cause to believe that a suspect has committed a crime. However, the definition of “probable cause” is highly variable.
In general, the police and the judiciary are held to very different standards:
- When a law enforcement officer arrests a suspect without a warrant, they must have both a reasonable belief that a criminal offense has been committed and that the suspect is most likely the perpetrator. While a defense attorney could allege that a police officer did not have probable cause, the courts typically permit law enforcement to make independent, experienced-based decisions. However, an arrest could be challenged if the arresting officer’s actions defied common sense and reason.
- When the police department or a prosecutor seeks a warrant for an individual’s arrest, then law enforcement must present compelling evidence that the suspect broke the law. Typically, a judge will consider documentary evidence, physical evidence, and eyewitness testimony before approving an arrest warrant.
In simple terms, a law enforcement officer can initiate an arrest if they have “probable cause” to believe that a suspect committed a crime. However, a police officer does not necessarily have to have compelling evidence to order an arrest.
Conversely, a judge will not usually sign an arrest warrant based on suspicion alone; instead, the judge will make a “probable cause” determination based off the availability of evidence against an individual.
The Police Don’t Always Need to Demonstrate Probable Cause
An arrest could be wrongful if a police officer cannot convince a judge or a jury that they had probable cause to initiate a traffic stop, search a private residence, or detain an individual for a prolonged period of time.
However, Florida law allows police officers to order an arrest even if they do have a warrant and have not witnessed criminal activity, provided that:
- The suspect is both in the possession of an illegal firearm and has a protection order filed against them for domestic violence or stalking
- The suspect is in violation of a protective order issued for domestic violence or sexual crimes.
Furthermore, the police can arrest a suspect if the police discover evidence of criminal activity after the suspect allows law enforcement to conduct a warrantless search of their person, vehicle, or other property.
Unfortunately, even if you are never charged with or convicted of a crime, the ramifications of an arrest can cause long-lasting personal and reputational damage.
Contact an Okaloosa County Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one have been arrested in Okaloosa County, call Flaherty & Merrifield today at (850) 243-6097 for a free consultation.